Arsenal Under Wenger Have Entered Terminal Decline
Was it hard for you to watch? Yes. Manchester United scored eight goals against Arsenal on Sunday but the scoreline failed even to be the ultimate indignity – Sir Alex Ferguson’s show of pity for Arsene Wenger, formerly his greatest rival, got that nod.
Ferguson’s understanding is more than professional solidarity, his attitude towards Wenger has softened with Arsenal’s steady slide and Sunday’s unequivocal sympathy is the surest sign yet that Arsenal under Wenger are in terminal decline. It is difficult to imagine a set of young players evoking so little hope as this team.
Perpetual regeneration undermines everything that Wenger has built. Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri leave more painful scars than their talent deserves because their departures are tainted with the familiarity which breeds contempt: the fight to keep them displayed the same inevitability as so many Arsenal departures do. Before them, Ashley Cole, Matthieu Flamini, Emanuel Adebayor and even Alexander Hleb were players sold within touching distance of their peaks – leaving only empty spaces for replacements.
Of the United team that scored eight – younger than Arsenal’s which nabbed two – Tom Cleverly, Danny Wellbeck, Phil Jones et al are set to grow together as a team. Who can expect the same at Arsenal, where Cole became Gael Clichy, where Hleb became Nasri, memories of the Invincibles dance on and Wenger promises to produce someone new from the hat yet again? Each new dawn arrives, and then fails to last the full day.
New hopes come and go before any build can be completed. Now, as Kieran Gibbs and Aaron Ramsey take Clichy and Nasri’s places in the lineup – presumably for shooting – optimism is impossible to rekindle. Simply, the chances of the latest sparks staying at the Emirates to play their best football appear so low.
With every generation the spiral of decline steepens. Ramsey, Gibbs and Jack Wilshere who, no doubt, have the potential to be “top, top, top players”, arrive into a team labelled deficient by everyone from inside to out. Wenger told us that he could not afford to be without Nasri and Fabregas, Nasri and Fabregas told us that he couldn’t and the watching press wrote thousands of words explaining that he couldn’t.
Players arrive believing that they can’t fill their predecessor’s shoes. See the past – again – for details: Clichy played out his Arsenal career as if that was the case, Fabregas’ trophy haul makes the case for him feeling the same way. It has all been seen before and each changing of the guards brings the belief level down further.
It means there is no time to correct old mistakes. Eight goals against Manchester United was the shock result that everyone saw coming. For each new group brought through, that old defensive vulnerability prevails. Wenger denies offering £6million for Bolton centre back Gary Cahill this summer; whilst we know he paid £15million for Southampton’s attacking midfielder Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain. Whatever the bid for Cahill, Wenger’s priorities are transparent.
his week’s signings break no new ground. Per Mertesacker and Andre Santos are defenders but above all else frantic lunges at players “available” on deadline day. Wenger has chosen to build his back four only at the last moment, only following an eight goal deconstruction of his approach to the season – of his spending only on Oxlaide-Chamberlain and Gervinho.
If anything, this last ditch cash splash should worry the wavering faithful. The lingering notion that Wenger simply has no money to wave now gone, his lack of a plan floats sombrely in yellow across Sky Sports News: it’s true, the full extent of his side’s glaring weaknesses in defence were not apparent to him until the last gasp, it rings out.
It was all there for Wenger to see, but it has proved beyond him. Last season, Arsenal conceded 43 goals in the league, more than any of the three teams that finished ahead of them. That was no one off; the teams finishing ahead of Arsenal in the league have leaked fewer goals than them in every season since they last won the thing.
Yet it came to an August 31st dash at the men with the best agents. Priorities have not changed.
Even where newness leaks into the system, it is a dampener. Wenger is known for taking profitable risks on Thierry Henry, famously a flop at Juventus, Patrick Vieira, a reserve at AC Milan, and for making greats of Nasri and Fabregas after plucking them from Marseille and Barcelona. But this week, risks arrived from Monaco, Werder Bremen, Everton. Wenger’s risks are getting…riskier.
And all this whilst Ferguson looks so sure. His team have started the season with a purpose lacking in even last season’s title win: passes are quicker, goals are flowing. They, the benchmark, are moving further away as Arsenal sink into their cycle of decline; a young team, ready to spend the next ten years at the top together. As Arsenal spin in circles, expect Ferguson’s final years at Old Trafford to include far more sympathy for Wenger.